The Four Phases of Saying ‘No’

saying no

A friend of mine recently had trouble saying no. As freelancers and business owners, it can be hard to say no. Someone comes along, offering us payment in exchange for services, and the auto-response is ‘yes.’

But yes isn’t always the right answer. In fact, the more experienced you become as an independent professional, the less you ought to say yes. My friend had trouble listening to her gut when considering a potential new client. She pushed aside the initial personality clash and awkward work/feedback flow, and tried to make it happen. She even let that potential client sucker her into doing “exploratory” work (aka without a contract) while they felt each other out. She kept telling herself that there was no logical reason why she shouldn’t work with this client. They weren’t particularly nasty, rude, or demanding…just a little off. She thought it was her problem and she should muscle through.

Disastrous. After about two weeks of stop and start work, constant assessment, and the client admitting that she was having trouble letting go of a task that she’s had total control of for years, my friend finally found her cojones and said ‘no.’ She realized there were several stages of rationalization during that time period. I share them here in the hopes that all of you will feel more comfortable saying no when you gut tells you to.

Phase 1: Excitement

A new opportunity! I think most freelancers are highly motivated optimists who want to grow their business. They are experts, confident that they can provide what any client is looking for. But just like personal relationships, it’s rarely possible to change people. Unless THEY want to change. The excitement of new revenue starts to fade as you realize you’ll have to make all sorts of exceptions and compromises to make it work.

Phase 2: Guilt

We’ve all felt it. “I should do this because money and because there’s no rational reason not to. I have the time and skills, ect. The only reason I don’t want to do it is that this person irritates me. Or the work irritates me. Or both.” Never dismiss the irritation–it’s you’re soul’s way of saying this is not right for you.

Phase 3: Liberation

This usually occurs when the irritation finally overwhelms any promise of pay, and you realize your soul was trying to keep you from wasting a heap of time. This is why you build contracts that give both parties the right to terminate the agreement for any reason. It’s not going to be easy, but you must find a polite way to withdraw from the situation and realize that if they have a problem it’s on them and not you. The whole point of being master of your domain is to choose your destiny, so why punish yourself by working with the wrong people. Maximize joy AND profit. Otherwise what’s the point?

Phase 4: Abundance

As soon as my friend found a way to say no (and the client was completely whiny and combative about it–further proof of their wrongness) it felt as though a huge weight was lifted from her shoulders. She started the workday with joy rather than dread. Once she said no, the right things almost immediately started to fill the void left by the wrong project. She had two new opportunities that filled her with excitement sitting in her inbox within a week.

Of course, now she knows that excitement can be the tricky first phase of saying no. So she’s proceeding with a lot more caution. And listening to her gut this time.

Have you ever had trouble saying no? Share your experience in the comments.

Image: marc falardeau

5 Dignified Ways To Fire That Crappy Client

Trump Fire That Crappy Client

Last week, we talked about reasons to emancipate yourself from toxic clients: y’know, the clients you dread working for/calling/meeting with but think you have to tolerate because of the money.

We discovered staying with these crappy clients just for the money defeats the purpose of working for yourself (i.e. control) and often drags your business away from its true brand and goals.

But, firing a client isn’t an easy job. Since most of us can’t afford to fly George Clooney in for the afternoon, here are some ways for handling this uncomfortable situation like a professional:

1. The “I’ll pay when it’s convenient for me” client: Net 14 means nothing to this client. They wait until all their bills are paid to see if they have extra for your invoice. Or worse yet, they pay only after they’ve been paid by their clients, and who knows whether they’re crappy or not?! Unacceptable.

Pull a Donald by: Send this client a notice that you’re turning their unpaid invoices over to collections. That should send a pretty strong message. If they still don’t pay, actually send their unpaid invoices over to collections. Most importantly, refuse to take on more projects until you’re caught up. Either set up a strict payment schedule in the future or inform this client that you’re unavailable for more.

2. The “You’re a freelancer so you have to take my shit” client: This client wants you to offer all the bells and whistles of a large firm but still wants to pay you peanuts. This client enjoys your ability to come in under-budget and before deadline, but thinks that it gives license to nickle and dime you on rate, and expect things to be completed over night (you don’t need to sleep, do you?!) Worse yet, this client rarely has their shit together, meaning your schedule is thrown off and other projects suffer because of it.

How to pull a Donald: Let this client see what it’s like to return to the impersonal world of larger companies. Inform them (politely) that you think their needs would be better served by another company. You might even suggest one. You can also let them know that you’re taking your company in another direction, and not renewing any contracts at this time. The key here is to be clear without jeopardizing that unpaid invoice.

3. The “I know better than you” client: This client understands how to do your job because last weekend, his cousin showed him the basics of the computer program you use. Of course, he doesn’t realize that he needs your expert skills to use this tool to do the things he really wants to do. He’ll tell you exactly what to do and how to do it, turning you into a production house instead of letting you do what you do best.

How to pull a Donald: First of all, do your best to remove any references to your name or company on work you’ve done for this client. Why? Because he’ll probably try to tinker around on his own and completely mess up your work in the process. Then, stop the project, get caught up on invoices and give him whatever you’ve done so far. He’ll probably hand it off to his cousin to see if he can finish it.

4. The “keep this on the down-low” client: Reputation is everything when you’re a freelancer. Bending your integrity, even on something small, even for just one client, makes you feel icky and lowers the bar for the next guy. Avoid this slippery slope altogether.

How to pull a Donald: To reason with this client, you can explain why you prefer to do things the way you do. If she simply doesn’t understand or refuses to accept your methods, it’s time to cut ties. Explain the problems that her requests create for you and let her down easy. If you haven’t already, provide your alternative ideas for how to complete the job in a more ethical manner. Then, the ball’s in her court and either way, you win.

5. The “I know this isn’t your passion, but can’t you do it anyway?” client: People enter the uncertain life of a business owner for one simple reason: they love doing something and they want to do it 24 hours a day. There are very few things a person can be this passionate about. Money is nice, but accepting the wrong client means that you’ll be tied to a project that you probably hate. And with that kind of imprisonment, you might as well be back at the office.

How to pull a Donald: Use the age-old “it’s not you, it’s me.” Inform them that your core competencies just don’t jive with their strategic vision. Don’t feel pressured if this client starts to whine about all the other projects he had lined up for you. If you can, refer him to a colleague or competitor that you know can deliver what he wants. A referral is key, because you don’t want him to be unsatisfied and claim that you can’t do your job. You could do it, you just don’t want to :)

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